From his provocative catwalk shows to his dramatic gowns throbbing with romantic tension and macabre psychodrama, every aspect of Alexander McQueen boils down to feeling. Few were dialed into the departed talent’s dark idiosyncrasies like Sarah Burton, who became McQueen’s head of womenswear after graduating from Central Saint Martins and was tasked with upholding her mentor’s legacy as creative director following his suicide. Big shoes to fill, but Burton rose to the occasion with quiet grace, maintaining McQueen’s magic for more than a decade while making it her own and dutifully avoiding the spotlight.
Emotions were running high at Alexander McQueen’s spring 2024 ready-to-wear presentation this past weekend in Paris, which Kering, the label’s parent company, announced would be Burton’s last. The news gave fashion insiders pause. Though Kering has yet to explain Burton’s departure, the industry soon realized that anyone who comes after Burton “will not have a direct link to McQueen,” Cathy Horyn writes in The Cut, “and their understanding of his genius will come from collective memory.” (The prediction became a reality when Kering appointed Seán McGirr as the house’s new creative director today.) As the runway show wrapped, and Burton emerged to take a bow in her signature jeans, white sneakers, and dark blue shirt to a standing ovation, the consensus was simple: a chapter had drawn to a close.
That chapter’s denouement proved a marquee moment during a predictably frenzied Paris Fashion Week. Burton’s show notes cited female anatomical inspirations, as well as Queen Elizabeth I and roses. Dangling around the room were four gigantically gnarly-knitted sculptures by Magdalena Abakanowicz, the late-20th-century Polish artist lovingly described by Burton as “a transgressive and powerfully creative artist who refused to ever compromise her vision.” As far as her final collection is concerned, the same applies to Burton. She dedicated her final bow to her late mentor, shedding light on his wish to “always empower women.” Models across ages, races, and sizes telegraphed that message with aplomb: black chiffon slip dresses, anatomically embroidered bodysuits, and the finale, a molded corset Noami Campbell flaunted like armor.